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Amazing Tales From the Boston Marathon

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Runners dressed as Forrest Gump, Elvis, Bozo the Clown and the Cat in the Hat all crossed the finish line in front of me at the Boston Marathon one year.

So did a shirtless participant running backwards, possibly in search of a Nike endorsement. A magic marker message was scrawled where you'd expect to see his chest: "Backwards Man -- It Do Just."

"In front of me" is not the same as "ahead of me." "Ahead" would suggest movement on my part, perspiration even. Not standing at the finish line as stationary as Boston's North Church taking notes for a story on the 100th anniversary of the greatest American road race.

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The Kenyan winner that year, Moses Tanui, crossed the finish line, bowed his head to accept the victor's wreath and proceeded to answer questions without a hint of breathlessness. He spoke as calmly as if he'd arrived by subway—which runner Rosie Ruiz (above) did one year, but more on her later.

Tanui has since retired so he won't be competing in the 115th Boston Marathon on the third Monday of April. But the runner who caught my attention at the centennial race will return, once again pushing his son, Rick, in a wheelchair, and no doubt inspiring more people than all the wreath-crowned champions in the history of the event.

Let's Roll

Dick Hoyt is 70. Last year's Boston Marathon was the 1,000th race the Hoyts completed. That number includes 28 Boston Marathons and 238 triathlons.

Triathlons involve swimming, biking and running. So Dick Hoyt straps a small craft to his back and pulls his son through the water, and pedals him on a reconfigured bicycle to the bike-run transition area. They have completed six Ironman triathlons (2.4 mile swim, 112-mile bike and 26.2 mile run).

Rick Hoyt is 49 now. His cerebral palsy was traced to oxygen deprivation at birth. Using a computer to communicate, he got his degree from Boston University. The first computer-aided words he typed as a kid: "Go Bruins."

When Dick Hoyt realized how much his young son loved sports, he took him fishing, tying a string to his finger. He pushed him around the baseball diamond.

Hockey was a favorite of Rick's. So the father strapped bars to the back of a sled and used the blades of the sled as a hockey stick.

Running was Rick's idea. Their first race was a local five-miler.

They finished next-to-last. But Rick Hoyt told his father he didn't feel "handicapped" when running. That's all Dick Hoyt needed to hear.

Their first Boston Marathon together, they entered unofficially. The Boston Marathon, after all, is not for the beginner. While allowances are made for non-qualifying runners, most runners have to meet strenuous qualifying standards.

In 1980, their first Boston, the race was made famous by the cheating Ruiz, who took the subway, jumped into the race late, was crowned champ and stripped of the title eight days later.

The Hoyts couldn't get a number that year. The Boston Athletic Association told them they needed to qualify like everyone else. And at the specified time for Rick's age group.

He was 18. The Hoyt's had to qualify at 2 hours, 50 minutes. Fast. They eventually ran the Marine Corps Marathon in 2:45 to qualify both of them.

The day I watched the Hoyts finish Boston, the ovation was long and loud. They had been honored as "Centennial Heroes" at a function the same week.

"We've come a long way," Dick Hoyt said that day. "Just to run the 100th Boston Marathon is satisfaction enough. Sometimes today my feet weren't even touching the ground."

Two years later, inspired in part by watching the Hoyts, I ran my first marathon.

Fifteen years later, Team Hoyt is scheduled to compete at Boston again. May the wind always be at their back.

Fun Facts and Oddities

• The starting line at the first Boston Marathon in 1897 was a heel dug in the dirt and scraped across the road. A "handler" accompanied each runner on bicycle. No word on whether they were licensed paramedics.

• A Boston Herald story in the mid-1950s carried a warning: "No weaklings will be permitted to start the marathon tomorrow." Doctors declared three runners "unfit." They ran anyway and finished in the Top 10.

• The irony is the race that did so much to popularize running in America and fought so hard for mainstream acceptance of running was hardly inclusive or accepting of older runners and women. In 1952 the Boston Athletic Assocation told 52-year-old Peter Foley he was too old to run. He shaved his gray beard and ran anyway.

• For the 100th anniversary, I talked to Bobbi Gibb, the first woman to run the Boston Marathon. She had to run it as a bandit, wearing a hooded sweatshirt to conceal her identity. She hid in the bushes near the starting line.

She told me she had sent an application into the BAA. The response?

"They said women are in 1966 not physiologically able to run the marathon distance," she said. "Futhermore they are not allowed to."

Gibb, who trained in nursing shoes but made the painful decision to run in brand new running shoes, ran a 3:21.

• The next year, 1967, the BAA received an application from a "K.V. Switzer." They didn't know the "K" stood for Kathrine. There's a famous picture of Jock Semple of the BAA bounding off the press truck and trying to rip the No. 261 off her back only to get blocked to the ground by Switzer's boyfriend, a former college football player.

"(Kathrine and I) were both back on the sports page," Gibb said of her second running of the Boston Marathon. "Kathrine with Jock chasing after her. It was like, 'Babes Bug Marathon Chief.'"

Gibb finished well ahead of Switzer that year, but neither time was recorded.

“There are no girls in the Boston Marathon,” declared race director Will Cloney.

• The Boston Athletic Association finally began recording women's champions when Nina Kuscsik won in 1972.

• The most appropriately named champion of the Boston Marathon showed up at the 100th anniversary in 1996. Johnny Miles was 91 at the time. Reached at his home in Nova Scotia, the 1929 winner said, "The shoes I wore cost 98 cents. They were top of the line."

• The tradition is for the Boston Red Sox to play at Fenway at 11 a.m. on Patriot's Day, after which fans file out to cheer the marathoners. After years of late-season folds by the Sox, the great Joan Benoit put on a Red Sox cap in Brookline, not far from Fenway, to remind her not to lose the lead.

• In 1907, race officials failed to check the railroad schedule in South Framingham. A freight train separated the lead runners from the rest of the field for more than a minute.

• Johnny Kelley is a two-time Boston Marathon champ and one of the event's most famous names. You want a measure of how much staying power a sports event has? You can start right there.

Kelley turns 80 this year. His nickname, "The Younger."

That's how Boston Marathon fans and historians differentiate him from the other Boston Marathon champ of the same name.

You guessed it. Johnny "The Elder" Kelley (no relation).

• Johnny "The Younger" Kelley was tripped up by a stray dog in Newtwon Lower Falls in 1961. The dog ran with the marathon lead pack for almost a dozen miles. According to the Boston Globe, Kelley held no grudges, saying, “Have you ever seen a dog in such good
condition?”

• According to Legend, Heartbreak Hill was coined by Jerry Nason of the Boston Globe when defending champ Johnny "The Elder" Kelley caught up to leader Ellison "Tarzan" Brown and tapped him on the shoulder as if to say, "Nice try, pal." Brown ran him down and won easily.

• Jacqueline Gareau thought she'd won the 1980 race. Instead she arrived at the finish line to see Rosie Ruiz wearing the victor's wreath. Ruiz apparently jumped into the race at Kenmore Square. Her 25-minute improvement over her qualifying time immediately raised suspicion and she was stripped of the title eight days later.

According to the Globe, when Gareau returned 25 years later to serve as grand marshal, she got out of a car and jokingly jogged across the finish line. “I'm like Rosie now,” she said. “Is this right?”

Bud Shaw is a columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer who has also written for the Philadelphia Daily News, San Diego Union-Tribune, Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The National. You can read his Plain Dealer columns at Cleveland.com, and read all his mental_floss articles here.

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10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
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Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.

1. ON SCIENCE

"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.

2. ON NASA FUNDING

"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles

3. ON GOD AND HURRICANES

"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole

4. ON THE BENEFITS OF TECHNOLOGY INVENTED FOR USE IN SPACE

"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles

5. ON THE DEMOTION OF PLUTO FROM PLANET STATUS 

PBS

"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

6. ON JAMES CAMERON'S TITANIC

"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole

7. ON DEATH BY ASTEROID

"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles

8. ON THE MOTIVATIONS BEHIND AMERICA'S MOONSHOT

"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

9. ON INTELLIGENT LIFE (OR THE LACK THEREOF)

Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html
Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."

10. PRACTICAL ADVICE IN THE EVENT OF ALIEN CONTACT 

A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios
"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole
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40 Fun Facts About Sesame Street
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Now in its 47th season, Sesame Street is one of television's most iconic programs—and it's not just for kids. We're big fans of the Street, and to prove it, here are some of our favorite Sesame facts from previous stories and our Amazing Fact Generator.

Sesame Workshop

1. Oscar the Grouch used to be orange. Jim Henson decided to make him green before season two.

2. How did Oscar explain the color change? He said he went on vacation to the very damp Swamp Mushy Muddy and turned green overnight.

3. During a 2004 episode, Cookie Monster said that before he started eating cookies, his name was Sid.

4. In 1980, C-3PO and R2-D2 visited Sesame Street. They played games, sang songs, and R2-D2 fell in love with a fire hydrant.

5. Mr. Snuffleupagus has a first name—Aloysius

6. Ralph Nader stopped by in 1988 and sang "a consumer advocate is a person in your neighborhood."

7. Caroll Spinney said he based Oscar's voice on a cab driver from the Bronx who brought him to the audition.

8. In 1970, Ernie reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the timeless hit "Rubber Duckie."

9. One of Count von Count's lady friends is Countess von Backwards, who's also obsessed with counting but likes to do it backwards.

10. Sesame Street made its Afghanistan debut in 2011 with Baghch-e-Simsim (Sesame Garden). Big Bird, Grover and Elmo are involved.

11. According to Muppet Wiki, Oscar the Grouch and Count von Count were minimized on Baghch-e-Simsim "due to cultural taboos against trash and vampirism."

12. Before Giancarlo Esposito was Breaking Bad's super intense Gus Fring, he played Big Bird's camp counselor Mickey in 1982.

13. Thankfully, those episodes are available on YouTube.

14. How big is Big Bird? 8'2". (Pictured with First Lady Pat Nixon.)

15. In 2002, the South African version (Takalani Sesame) added an HIV-positive Muppet named Kami.

16. Six Republicans on the House Commerce Committee wrote a letter to PBS president Pat Mitchell warning that Kami was not appropriate for American children, and reminded Mitchell that their committee controlled PBS' funding.

17. Sesame Street's resident game show host Guy Smiley was using a pseudonym. His real name was Bernie Liederkrantz.

18. Bert and Ernie have been getting questioned about their sexuality for years. Ernie himself, as performed by Steve Whitmere, has weighed in: “All that stuff about me and Bert? It’s not true. We’re both very happy, but we’re not gay,”

19. A few years later, Bert (as performed by Eric Jacobson) answered the same question by saying, “No, no. In fact, sometimes we are not even friends; he can be a pain in the neck.”

20. In the first season, both Superman and Batman appeared in short cartoons produced by Filmation. In one clip, Batman told Bert and Ernie to stop arguing and take turns choosing what’s on TV.

21. In another segment, Superman battled a giant chimp.

22. Telly was originally "Television Monster," a TV-obsessed Muppet whose eyes whirled around as he watched.

23. According to Sesame Workshop, Elmo is the only non-human to testify before Congress.

24. He lobbied for more funding for music education, so that "when Elmo goes to school, there will be the instruments to play."

25. In the early 1990s, soon after Jim Henson’s passing, a rumor circulated that Ernie would be killed off in order to teach children about death, as they'd done with Mr. Hooper.

26. According to Snopes, the rumor may have spread thanks to New Hampshire college student, Michael Tabor, who convinced his graduating class to wear “Save Ernie” beanies and sign a petition to persuade Sesame Workshop to let Ernie live.

27. By the time Tabor was corrected, the newspapers had already picked up the story.

28. Sesame Street’s Executive Producer Carol-Lynn Parente joined Sesame Workshop as a production assistant and has worked her way to the top.

29. Originally, Count von Count was more sinister. He could hypnotize and stun people.

30. According to Sesame Workshop, all Sesame Street's main Muppets have four fingers except Cookie Monster, who has five.

31. The episode with Mr. Hooper's funeral aired on Thanksgiving Day in 1983. That date was chosen because families were more likely to be together at that time, in case kids had questions or needed emotional support.

32. Mr. Hooper’s first name was Harold.

33. Big Bird sang "Bein' Green" at Jim Henson's memorial service.

34. As Chris Higgins put it, the performance was "devastating."

35. Oscar's Israeli counterpart is Moishe Oofnik, whose last name means “grouch” in Hebrew.

36. Nigeria's version of Cookie Monster eats yams. His catchphrase: "ME WANT YAM!"

37. Sesame's Roosevelt Franklin ran a school, where he spoke in scat and taught about Africa. Some parents hated him, so in 1975 he got the boot, only to inspire Gob Bluth’s racist puppet Franklin on Arrested Development 28 years later.

38. Our good friend and contributor Eddie Deezen was the voice of Donnie Dodo in the 1985 classic Follow That Bird.

39. Cookie Monster evolved from The Wheel-Stealer—a snack-pilfering puppet Jim Henson created to promote Wheels, Crowns and Flutes in the 1960s.

40. This puppet later was seen eating a computer in an IBM training film and on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Thanks to Stacy Conradt, Joe Hennes, Drew Toal, and Chris Higgins for their previous Sesame coverage!

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2012.

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